Under the provisions of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, the regulation of coursing is chiefly a matter for the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon (BnG).
The ICC has assured my Department that it has systems and practices in place to underpin the welfare of hares and greyhounds involved in coursing. Hares can only be collected for coursing by clubs affiliated to the ICC, in accordance with the terms of two licences granted by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
These licences contain 26 conditions which have been refined over the years, the majority of which are central to hare welfare. These include a variety of measures, including a requirement that a qualified veterinarian attends all coursing meetings to report on the health of the hares, a prohibition on the coursing of hares more than once in the same day, a prohibition on the coursing of sick or pregnant hares and a requirement that hares be released back into the wild during daylight hours.
The ICC also attends to the welfare of the hare and undertakes a range of actions to address issues related to health and welfare. Coursing clubs are required to comply with directives, instructions and guidance notes issued by the ICC in all matters relating to the capture, keeping in captivity, tagging, marking, coursing and release of hares, and the muzzling of greyhounds.
A Monitoring Committee on Coursing is in place, comprising officials from my Department, the ICC and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), to monitor developments in coursing and, in that regard, the situation is kept under constant review to ensure that coursing is run in a well controlled and responsible manner in the interests of both hares and greyhounds.
The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.
The report of the EU Directive 92/43/EEC is a matter for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the findings will be discussed at the next monitoring committee meeting following its publication.
I believe that it is critically important that those involved in coursing operate in accordance with the regulatory framework and that the welfare of both hares and greyhounds is prevalent at all times.